Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #1129 MP3 Audio File Video File

The Rapture: Up, Up, and Away?

(1 Thess. 4:16-18)

Delivered 08/21/22

Good morning, Bereans. We are continuing our study of 1 Thessalonians this morning, and we’ll be wrapping up chapter 4. From 4:13 through 5:11, the context is about the Second Coming. In this section, Paul is answering some questions that the Thessalonians had asked. As we saw in 1:10, the Thessalonians were waiting on the Lord’s return; they expected it in their lifetime. But while they were waiting for the Lord’s Parousia, some among them had died. Those remaining were concerned that their dead loved ones might miss out on the Second Coming. Paul comforts them by sharing with them the knowledge that their loved ones would not miss out on the things accompanying the Lord returns. So far, we have looked at verses 13-15.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Yeshua died and rose again, even so, through Yeshua, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 ESV

If you have not heard the last two messages on these verses, I would encourage you to listen to those to get the whole picture of what is happening here.

For our study this morning, we are going to be looking at the verses that the rapture doctrine is built on.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ESV

Most Christians today view the rapture as describing an escape from the troubles of this world. They believe that one day soon (it is always soon—it was "soon" when Yeshua spoke it to the Thessalonians, and it is still soon today) Yeshua is going to physically appear in the sky, and immediately all the dead are going to come out of their graves and be resurrected and rise to meet Him, and the living Christians will be caught up in the clouds with them to be with Christ. They believe that Christians will physically be "raptured" off of this earth. I'm sure you've seen the pictures of the unmanned cars crashing and bodies coming out of the graves with everyone going up into the sky.

Are you aware that this "rapture of the church" idea is not a historical teaching of the church? This rapture-based theology has only been around for the past couple hundred years and predominantly in America. The biblical scholar, N.T. Wright, refers to it as an "American obsession" and notes that few Christians in the U.K. hold any sort of belief in it.

The origins of rapture theology lie in 1830 Scotland whe a fifteen-year-old girl, Margaret MacDonald, claimed to see a vision of a "two-stage return of Yeshua." Then John Nelson Darby, a British evangelist and the founder of the Plymouth Brethren, took MacDonald's vision and created an entire system based off of it in which Yeshua returns not once (as Christians have always believed), but twice!

Darby made various "mission trips" to the U.S. in the late 19th century. The notion of a "rapture" found itself appealing to American Christians who were going through the atrocities of the Civil War, which, by all measures, must have looked like Armageddon: nation rising up against nation, brother against brother, son against father, etc. With more than half a million dead, who wouldn't find a "let's get out of here" theology attractive? This mind-set was exacerbated with World War I and the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible, which was handed out to soldiers in the trenches.

Two other events corresponded to the promotion of the "rapture" in America: the conversion of Dwight L. Moody to the eschatological system (he later founded Moody Bible Institute and a major radio program, which would become important in the promotion of rapture theology) and the establishment of Dallas Theological Seminary, a dispensationalist training center. During the twentieth century the "physical rapture" of the Church became a dominant eschatological view in America.

The time of the Rapture has been a matter of disagreement among futurist interpreters because they say there is no passage in Scripture that states explicitly when it will occur. Some believe that it will take place before the Tribulation (pre-tribulationists). Others believe that it will take place after the Tribulation (post-tribulationists). Others conclude that it will take place during the Tribulation (mid-tribulationists). Still others contend that the Lord will catch away only some Christians but not all of them (partial-rapturists).

Futurists may be confused about the time of the Parousia, but Paul is not. He gives us a window of time for the resurrection and Parousia when he says.

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 1 Thessalonians 4:15 ESV

A critical key to understanding this text is knowing the hermeneutical principle of audience relevance (i.e., What did the original audience understand this to mean?).  We know that Paul is writing this letter to the first-century saints in Thessalonica. This text is not written to us. As a matter of fact, none of the Bible was written to us; it was written for us but not to us. I have had some Christians flip out on me for making that statement. They think that the Bible is written to us. How can it be written to us when it was written two thousand years ago? Paul is writing to first-century saints in the year AD 50. It sure sounds like he expected to be alive when the Lord returned. Notice that Paul uses the first-person, plural pronoun "we" instead of the third person demonstrative pronoun, "those." The "we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord" is a TIME STATEMENT. The "we" MUST be seen as the collective group of Paul and his audience. They (Paul and the Thessalonians) were expecting the return of Christ in their lifetime. This is very clear throughout the book.

If the Thessalonians didn’t believe that the Lord would return in their lifetime, why would they be worrying about those who had died? If he didn’t return in their lifetime, they were all going to die before then.

Let's move on to the next verse in our text.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 ESV

"For the Lord himself"—this is Yeshua.  "Will descend from heaven"—the description of a descent from heaven here has been referred to in 4:15 as "the coming of the Lord." The word for coming is Parousia. It ordinarily means either "presence" or "coming." I think "presence" is best in this context. Comparing other descriptions of Christ's coming, it is clear that motion from heaven down to earth may not be the precise way in which Christ manifested his end-time presence.

The word "descend" was commonly used with the priest's descent out of the Temple to announce that atonement had been completed.

Let me go back to the web discussion of Sam Frost that we talked about last week. Talking about our text in 1 Thessalonians 4, Sam says,

It is for this reason that "the dead in Christ" shall be raised first, before those "who are living" on earth at that time. Why? Because they are already "with him" in heaven. They come "with him" when he "descends from heaven" (καταβήσεται ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ). This is not "apocalyptic" language. Jesus uses the same word in John 3.13, "No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man." That's not apocalyptic. "I am the living bread that descended from heaven." Clear, plain language. Even a Hyper Pret can't screw that up (well, they can, because 70 AD forces them to, but that's a highly prejudiced interpretation to be dismissed).

So, Sam says, the dead in Christ are already with him in heaven. The dead in Christ are in heaven in the presence of Yahweh? Then in what sense are they dead? How can you be in the presence of the living God and be considered dead? Adam’s sin caused his death which was to be put out of the presence of Yahweh’s garden (temple). When Israel was out of the land, they were considered dead because they were out of Yahweh’s presence. In the New Heavens and earth, Yahweh dwells with man.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." Revelation 21:3-4 ESV

There is no death because they are in the presence of the God of life. So, how are the "dead in Christ" with Yahweh in heaven?

In this same discussion, Sam says, "Aren't they already 'with God’ in heaven? Yes. Aren't they, then, 'alive’? Yes. WHAT, then, that is theirs, stands in need of being RAISED? Well….their bodies. Duh."

This text says NOTHING about bodies. The "dead in Christ" are dead because they are not with Yahweh. They are in Sheol awaiting the resurrection of the dead so that they can be with Yahweh. Resurrection is not about bodies! Nowhere in Scripture does it say that the body will be resurrected. The Bible never uses the terms "resurrected body," "resurrection of the body," or "physical resurrection." The church uses those terms quite often, but the Bible never does. The phrases that the Bible does use are "the resurrection of the dead" and "the resurrection from the dead."

If these deceased believers are said to be dead, than they are not with Yahweh but are in Sheol awaiting the resurrection of the dead.

Sam says, "They come 'with him’ when he 'descends from heaven’ (καταβήσεται ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ). This is not 'apocalyptic’ language."

Really Sam? This text is talking about the Parousia and resurrection and comes right from the words of Yeshua in Matthew 24, but it’s not apocalyptic? Apocalyptic literature is a combination of narrative and prose written in vivid imagery and poetic phrases that are intended to exaggerate for a purpose, such as in Daniel and most of Revelation. In apocalyptic language, great commotions and judgments upon earth are often represented by commotions and changes in the heavens. This language is not to be taken literally.

Believers, if we are going to rightly interpret the Word of God, we must apply the rules of hermeneutics. The primary rule of hermeneutics is called the Analogy of Faith. This means that Scripture interprets Scripture. No part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture.

As we compare Scripture with Scripture, we see that this is apocalyptic language speaking of judgment. In our text we have "descent from heaven, a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, the sound of the trumpet of God, being caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." This is clearly apocalyptic language and must be interpreted as such. Are the clouds here just cumulus clouds that believers float into? To not take this text as apocalyptic is to misinterpret it.

A comparison between 1 Thessalonians 4-5 and Matthew 24 is fascinating. As we keep in mind that Yeshua uses apocalyptic language in Matthew 24:29-35, we can't expect the same language to be literal in 1 Thessalonians 4-5. Those who believe the coming in Matthew refers to the spiritual events surrounding Jerusalem's fall would insist that we not literalize the clouds, the angels, or the trumpet blast. If they are not literal in Matthew, why would they be in Thessalonians? Matthew is the source of the language in Thessalonians. Paul says, "For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord."

Let’s look at some of the comparisons.

  1. Christ Himself Returns (Matthew 24:30 1 Thessalonians 4:16)
  2. From Heaven (Matthew 24:30 1 Thessalonians 4:16)
  3. With a Shout (Matthew 24:30 1 Thessalonians 4:16)
  4. Accompanied by Angels (Matthew 24:31 1 Thessalonians 4:16)
  5. With Trumpet of God (Matthew 24:31 1 Thessalonians 4:16)
  6. Believers Gathered (Matthew 24:31 1 Thessalonians 4:17)
  7. In Clouds (Matthew 24:30 1 Thessalonians 4:17)
  8. Time Unknown (Matthew 24:36 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2)
  9. Will Come as a Thief (Matthew 24:43 1 Thessalonians 5:2,4)
  10. Unbelievers Unaware of Impending Judgment (Matthew 24:37-39 1 Thess.5:3)
  11. Judgment Comes as Travail upon Expectant Mother (Matthew 24:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:3)
  12. Believers to Watch (Matthew 24:42 1 Thessalonians 5:4)
  13. Warning Against Drunkenness (Matthew 24:49 1 Thessalonians 5:7)

In Matthew 24, Yeshua predicted His coming to gather together the saints in that generation. In 1 Thessalonians 4-5, Paul spoke of the same coming of the Lord to gather the saints. How many comings of the Lord, with His angels, in fire, in power and glory, to gather the saints, are there in the New Testament? Just ONE! The conclusion is inescapable: 1 Thessalonians 4-5 is dealing with exactly the same coming, judgment, and gathering that Matthew 24 is.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 ESV

When the Lord comes from heaven there is "a cry of command"—this is from the Greek word keleuma. It is a military noun which occurs only here in the New Testament. Thayer’s definition is "an order, command, spec. a stimulating cry, that by which a signal is given to men, e.g., to rowers by the master of a ship, to soldiers by a commander (with a loud summons, a trumpet call)."

"The voice of an archangel"according to Jewish thought, the archangels are the rulers of the angels or the principal messengers among the multitude of angels. In Yeshua’s eschatological discourse, the angels play an important role in the moment when the chosen of God are gathered together (Matt. 24:31)

"With the sound of the trumpet of God"—the sounding of trumpets was a cultural way of announcing the approach of royalty in the East (cf. Hebrews 12:18-19). It also functioned as a sign of Divine judgment (Revelation 8:2; 11:15-19, Resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:52) and Gathering of the elect by angels (Matthew 24:31). We see in Leviticus 23:24 and Numbers 10:2 that trumpets sounded an assembly of God’s people. Here the trumpet of God gathers together God’s people.

It is possible that all three sounds (cry of command, voice, trumpet) refer to the sounds of the angel because in Revelation 4:1 the angel's voice is called a trumpet. But the Psalms associate the voice or shout of God with a trumpet.

God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet. Psalms 47:5 ESV

The cry of command, voice, and trumpet could refer to the Lord’s voice mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. John 5:25 ESV
Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice. John 5:28 ESV
in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:52 ESV

This is what Paul says at the end of 1 Thessalonians 4, verse 16, "And the dead in Christ will rise first." In all these passages, we have the resurrection of dead believers associated with a trumpet. The Good News Translation has, "Those who have died believing in Christ will rise to life first."

The traditional view holds that the spirits of departed saints are with the Lord now. He will bring them with Him when He returns, join their spirits to their resurrected bodies, and then they receive their glorified bodies as they meet Christ in the air.

We already established that "the dead in Christ" does not refer to those in heaven. To dwell with Yahweh is to have life. So, they cannot be in heaven and be dead at the same time. And prior to the Parousia, people didn’t go to heaven. Until atonement was complete, people waited for the resurrection in Sheol. Then "Those who sleep" in Sheol were raised by Yeshua and taken to heaven. This is the resurrection of the dead. We spent some time last week talking about the resurrection of the dead. Let me ask you a question. How do we know that this was a spiritual resurrection of bringing the saints into God’s presence and not a physical resurrection from the grave? Time defines Nature. We know that the resurrection happened in the first century, in AD 70. Thus, we know that it wasn’t physical. Bodies didn’t come out of graves in AD 70.

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 ESV

This is the verse from which the physical rapture theory comes.  

Commenting on this verse, Henry Alford writes, "The Apostle’s declarations here are made in the practical tone of strict matter of fact, and are given as literal details… Never was a place where the analogy of symbolical apocalyptic language was less applicable. Either these details must be received by us as matter of practical expectation, or we must set aside the Apostle as one divinely empowered to teach the Church."

This is absolutely ridiculous and without a sherd of evidence. He just says it’s so, therefore it is so. We know that if it is a clear cloudless day, the rapture cannot happen because we are going into the clouds. This is clearly not about physical clouds; it is apocalyptic language. To deny that is to ignore what Paul said earlier.

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 1 Thessalonians 4:15 ESV

When talking about the Parousia, the authors all use apocalyptic language. Let’s look at a few passages that talk about the Parousia.

and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Yeshua, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."  Acts 1:11 ESV

This means that he left on a cloud, and He would come on a cloud. Notice what Matthew says about His coming:

For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:27 ESV

This is obviously different than what Acts 1:11 describes. So which way is it? Is it visibly in a literal cloud or is it like literal lightning? Paul describes Christ's coming this way:

and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Yeshua is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Yeshua. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 ESV

Here we have angels and flaming fire dealing out retribution. Notice what John says in Revelation 19:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. Revelation 19:11 ESV

John has Yeshua coming on a horse, not a cloud or with lightning. So how can anyone say that language dealing with the Parousia is literal? When you compare Scripture with Scripture, it just doesn't add up.

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 ESV

Looking at this passage in the Greek can quickly dispel many false notions. Let's start with the first word in the verse—the word "then." This is the Greek word epeita.  Normally, when a sequence of events is described, the simple word eita (then) is used. Eita is best translated as "at that time" or "next." Eita is used to indicate an immediate sequence. We see this in John 19.

When Yeshua saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then [eita] he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. John 19:26-27 ESV

This is a series of events—one immediately after the other. But in our text, the Greek word is not eita; it is epeita. This is essentially the same Greek word with an "epi" prefix. This has the effect of affixing the word "after" to the word "then," so the best translation becomes "after then," "after that," or "after that time." Thereby, it doesn't necessarily mean "right after," but it could. Some say that epeita means that the living would be caught up to meet the Lord at a later time, maybe referring to their death. Epeita is used of an interval of 3 years and 13 years in Scripture. In other words, when you die you go to be with the Lord in the air. I used to hold this view, but I have changed my mind for two reasons. First of all, Epeita does not always mean "after that time." Epeita is used 16 times in the New Testament and 12 of them have the idea of "after that time," indicating sometime later. But 4 of the New Testament uses of epeita do indicate right after. For example:

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. James 3:17 ESV

Here, however, epeita doesn't mean "after that time."

He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. Hebrews 7:27 ESV

Here epeita doesn't mean "after that time." If it did, it would alter the fact that the high priest offered sacrifices for the sins of the people shortly after he offered them for himself. Notice the sequence here.

"Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil and put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times. "Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Leviticus 16:11-15 ESV

So, he offers for himself and then for the people.

So, I changed my mind. First of all, because epeita does not always mean "after that time." And secondly, because the parallel texts don't indicate a delay for the living. We don't see a delay in Matthew 24 between His coming in the clouds and the gathering of the elect. And we don't see a delay in the following:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 ESV

Here the dead are raised and the living are changed, not caught up.

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 1 Corinthians 15:53 ESV

The living put on immortality, which is to be in the presence of the Lord.

The question is, "Why does Paul use the word epeita instead of the normal word eita?" The answer is, I don't have a clue. But since the writer of Hebrews and James used it also to refer to a sequence, I guess it can be used that way.

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 ESV

So, the dead in Christ are raised and then, "We who are alive, who are left"—

Paul includes himself among those who could be alive when the Lord returns. He uses the first-person pronoun "we" instead of the third-person, "those." There is a clear implication here. Paul believed the coming of the Lord and the things described here in 1 Thessalonians 4 were imminent and could have occurred in his day.

"Will be caught up"—"caught up" is from the Greek verb harpazō which implies a forceful "snatching away. "The word in the Latin Vulgate translated "caught up" is rapturo, from which the term Rapture comes. Does being "caught up" mean a levitation of the physical body from earth up into the atmosphere of the sky? The raising of the dead in Christ is not a physically raising of dead bodies. The graves weren’t emptied in AD 70. So, why would being caught up be physical?  

Harpazo could refer to the body being "caught up," but it could also refer to the Christian being "caught up" without the body. It is used such a way in 2 Corinthians 12.

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up [harpazo ] to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up [harpazo ] into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 ESV

Paul doesn't know whether the body was involved in this man's "snatching away." The body isn't necessary, then, in the harpazo event, or Paul wouldn't have expressed this uncertainty. We know that Paul didn't mean that living Christians would be caught up in their living, physical bodies at the Second Coming of Christ, because this never happened. Christians were still around on the earth after the Second Coming, as history plainly tells us.

In the book, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation—An Exegetical and Historical Argument for a Pre-A.D. 70 Composition by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., evidence is given that John was seen by Polycarp in the 90s. So, some twenty years after the Parousia, John was still around.

The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. Revelation 22:17 ESV

Who is the Bride? It’s the first-century church. This is in the New Heaven and Earth after the Parousia and the Church is calling people to drink of the water of life. How would the Church do this if it was raptured off the earth? If Yahweh took the Church away in AD 70, who was to preach the Gospel?

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  Romans 10:14 ESV

Someone needs to be preaching the Gospel. Why did Paul have Timothy and Titus set up churches and ordain elders in AD 64–65 if the church was going to be taken off the earth in a few years? So many questions.

"Will be caught up together with them in the clouds" are the clouds here just cumulus clouds? In biblical language, "clouds," are symbolic of God's wrath and judgment against the enemies of His people. David said that the Lord delivered him from his enemies while descending on clouds (Psalm 18:3-15). The Lord said that He would ride into Egypt on a cloud and punish them:

An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them. Isaiah 19:1 ESV

The Lord did not literally ride on a cloud, but Egypt did receive this judgment at the hands of the Assyrians (Isaiah 20:1-6). The idea of Yeshua physically coming on the clouds would have been contrary to the nature of their understanding of the Old Covenant prophets. Clouds symbolize the presence of Yahweh.

"To meet the Lord in the air"—does this mean that believers were physically sucked up into the sky? Sure, if you take it literally. What does the word "air" mean? Is it in our atmosphere or the air we breathe? I think that Ephesians, chapter 2, gives us an idea of what air means here.

in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—Ephesians 2:2 ESV

The word "air" is another word for "heavenly or spiritual realm." Satan was an opponent of the scheme of redemption, as we can see throughout the Bible. He was the prince of the power of the air. In Romans 16:20, Paul says that Satan would be crushed "shortly" under their feet (remember original relevance). Yeshua now has taken over that sphere and rules in the "air" with the saints since the destruction of Jerusalem. If that is the same "air" where the saints were to meet, then there is no necessity for us to believe that the rapture was to be in the physical realm.

Paul says that believers are to "meet the Lord in the air." The word "meet" (apanteas) is only used three times in the Bible, each time signifying the sending of an advance party to meet a dignitary, and then escort him back to where they came from. In the case of Acts 28:15, the Christians in Rome went out to "meet" Paul at the Appii forum, and then they escorted him back to their homes. The other usage of this word is found in the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25. In the parable of the ten virgins, the kingdom of heaven "is likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom." The word used to "meet" the bridegroom is apanteas, which means "to meet, to escort back," as is evidenced by the fact that they met the bridegroom, and then went into the house from which they came.

And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Matthew 25:10 ESV
Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Matthew 25:13 ESV

In verse 13, Christ clarifies that this is what will occur in that generation when He comes. The significance of this is that when Christ came in the clouds, He literally, yet spiritually, gathered those that were alive to be caught up in the kingdom with Yeshua, and Yeshua spiritually returned with the believers to the earth to ever be with them. This was a spiritual event that was visibly manifest in the destruction of Jerusalem.

The idea of "being caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" is a picture of God's elect being brought into His presence in the Holy of Holies.

Is Paul talking about a literal rapture here? I don't think so! Paul believed that the Lord would return in his lifetime. He preached strongly about the Second Coming, the resurrection, and the judgment, but he never spoke of a physical "rapture" for living Christians.

It is not the physical body that is raptured. It is the Christian himself who is raptured as he is brought into the presence of the Lord. The dead believers were resurrected when Christ returned, [this was not a physical resurrection, and the rapture was not physical either] and all other Christians were caught up at that time.

In looking at the related passages of what immediately followed the Parousia, we find the phrases:                                                                                                                       

"Gather the elect from the four winds," in Matthew 24:31.

"Each in his own turn," in 1 Corinthians 15:23.

"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on," in Revelation 14:13.

 These are all equivalent, and are all applicable for us today. The process of being "snatched" or "caught away from" death and Hades and being "gathered in" to the presence of the Lord happened in AD 70. The "rapture" deals with being brought into the presence of the Lord and putting on immortality.

"And so, we will always be with the Lord"—there is nothing that can ever separate the believer from his Lord.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Yeshua our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 ESV

All believers are secure in their union with Christ. Nothing can separate us.

Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:18 ESV

When Paul says, "we do not want you to be uninformed," and he concludes, "comfort one another with these words," he is saying that there is practical benefit in knowing biblical truth. Paul wrote this passage on eschatology to comfort the Thessalonians.

Are these words still a comfort to us? Yes, they are. We are comforted in the fact that as believers, we are now in the presence of the Lord, we are not waiting for anything. We are now in His presence, and when we die, we will leave the physical realm and move into the heavenly/spiritual realm with our new spiritual body.

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